Thursday, February 22, 2018

Trump's Energy Policy Is Working - Jeffrey Folks

by Jeffrey Folks

The difference between a hypothetical Hillary Clinton administration and what we have now is sobering.

While we weren't watching, the price of oil more than doubled from its low early in 2016. Volatility of that kind is not unusual. A look at the 70-year chart shows that there have been eight times when oil prices have doubled or tripled in a brief timespan during those seven decades, nearly always sending the economy into a recession.

Fortunately, the run-up in oil prices has begun to stall – partly, I believe, as a result of increased U.S. production supported by the Trump administration. Thank goodness we have Donald Trump in the White House. Without him, we would be heading toward another recession.

The recent doubling of oil prices may not have a decisive effect, and may soon be reversed as a result of increased production, but oil still has the power to slow the economy. Over the past 20 years, while average household spending on gasoline alone has fluctuated between about 2% and 4%, other energy costs, including home heating and the cost embedded in the price of transporting goods and services, constitute a bigger share. And in the past, exogenous events such as the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74 had devastating effects on the U.S. economy.

The solution is energy independence. President Trump understands the importance of increased domestic oil and gas production. During his first year in office, he took important steps to spur domestic energy production, and there is clear evidence to show that his policies are working. That bottom line is increased production – at 10 million barrels per day – and more jobs in the energy sector. According to, U.S. oil and gas jobs increased by 5,000 in January 2018 alone, and 2018 "started with a sense of industry optimism."

Increased U.S. oil production is helping to moderate global prices. American fracking has made up for shortfalls in production due to OPEC quotas and falling output in Venezuela, in Mexico, and elsewhere. U.S. production, which had been falling during Obama's second term, began rising as soon as Donald Trump was inaugurated. Recently, the U.S. Energy Information Agency announced that 2018 production, at over 10 million barrels per day, will be at an all-time high.

It's frightening to think what would have happened if Hillary had been elected. More regulation and higher taxes would have put a drag on domestic energy production. Failure to approve new pipelines and refusal to allow drilling on federal lands and offshore areas would have contributed to higher energy prices in the future. Those higher prices would have reduced the real standard of living for all Americans. Liberals claim to be "fighting for the middle class," so why are they not concerned about higher prices?

Back in 2007 Hillary Clinton shrieked that she would like to seize the profits of America's energy companies and put them into a "strategic energy fund." That was more or less what Obama did, on a smaller scale, with government "investments" in green energy firms like Solyndra. Had Hillary been elected in 2016, there's little doubt that she would have tried to make good on her promise. She would have continued Obama's disastrous green energy experiments. And she would not have approved the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines or opened federal lands to drilling, including a small but highly productive portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). And a Clinton EPA would have continued to slow drilling with senseless regulations.

It is Trump who has been fighting for us. On Feb. 7, the U.S. Energy Information Agency announced that America is due to become a net energy-exporter in 2022, four years ahead of schedule – and for the first time since 1953. According to the EIA, "the United States energy system continues to undergo an incredible transformation."

While the president cannot take credit for the fracking revolution, he should receive credit for vigorously supporting the oil and gas industry. From his first day in office, he has worked to cut regulation, approve needed pipelines, and open up federal lands to drilling. The full effect of these policies will not be felt right away, but they will contribute to future prosperity. The cumulative effect of another half-point of GDP over a period of 50 years is powerful. To be exact, it is 28.4% – -living standards one third higher as a result of cheap, reliable energy.

The "incredible transformation" taking place in fossil-fuel production is not happening in other countries – only in the U.S. – and low-cost energy gives our economy a huge competitive advantage. It is doubtless a factor in the decision of many companies that have decided to invest in America just since the election of Donald Trump.

The effects of higher energy prices ripple throughout the economy. Higher prices mean that individuals have less money left over to spend and businesses less to invest. Schools and hospitals are left with less to spend on services. Higher transportation costs raise the prices of all goods. Invariably, higher energy prices translate into lower economic growth.

The most obvious effect of higher crude prices is in the price of gas at the pump. While these prices have risen, they would have been higher if U.S. production had not made up for cuts by OPEC and other producers. Higher prices at the pump translate directly into lower levels of consumer spending. Average household spending for gasoline in 2017 was just under $2,000 with gas averaging $2.48 per gallon. Most of us would rather pay $2.48 than the $10 per gallon that liberals like Barack Obama set as their goal in hopes of driving Americans toward alternative fuels.

The Trump administration understands this, and it is taking action to spur increased oil and gas production. Under Rick Perry, the U.S. Department of Energy is helping to support oil and gas exploration and to create more energy jobs.

More important is what government is not doing. For example, it is no longer restricting offshore oil exploration and production. In April, the president signed an executive order (the "America-First Offshore Energy Strategy") reversing Obama's previous order to restrict drilling on millions of offshore acres.

The administration's tax reform bill will also spur development in oil and gas, even more so than in other sectors of the economy. Cutting corporate rates will leave energy companies with more money to invest, and new expensing rules may have an even greater impact in the case of a capital intensive industry like oil and gas. According to one reputable source, tax reform "would have a profound effect on the oil and gas industry" – an industry that pays one of the highest corporate rates of any sector. Under the tax reform bill, expenditures also become immediately and fully deductible. According to, "government oversight of the oil and gas industry is poised to be at its most supportive since the early 1960s."

In the long term, Trump policies will have a much more profound effect, especially in terms of opening up new areas for production and removing unnecessary regulations. The effect will show up in terms of larger paychecks, lower energy bills, and lower prices for all goods and services that must be transported or produced with energy inputs, which is to say nearly everything.

The president's energy policies are wise and farsighted. It's time he received some credit for them.

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).


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